Luca della Robbia as maiolica producer : artists and artisans in fifteenth-century Florence
LaTores, Alicia Marie
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This thesis addresses the social status of the artist in Renaissance Italy by examining artists and artisans working in clay, a traditionally craft and decorative art material, and attempts to answer two main questions. First, if Luca della Robbia was considered an artist, why were maiolica workers considered artisans? Second, is Luca della Robbia truly inventive? The height of Luca della Robbia’s career comes about fifty years prior to the height of the production of maiolica, and his invention of glazed terracotta sculpture can be seen as a predecessor to, and catalyst for, the popularity of maiolica. To produce glazed ceramic wares Luca della Robbia and the maiolica workers use the same materials, though the process of production was slightly different. In addition to the small differences in the process of production, within society there was a large gap between the status of Luca della Robbia and that of the maiolica producers. Vasari, the sixteenth century artist and art historian, included Luca della Robbia in his famous anthology of the biographies of whom he considered the most important Italian artists, “The Lives of the Artists.” Thus Luca della Robbia was labeled as a sculptor by his contemporaries. Maiolica producers, however, have always been considered artisans and craftsmen, and even the few who attempted to elevate their social status, such as Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo, were continually viewed by contemporaries as craftsmen. This is in part due to the differences in training and in patronage. Luca della Robbia was trained as a sculptor, and worked in bronze and marble, in addition to clay. His primary patrons were institutions such as churches or guilds, or rich and powerful families such as the Medici of Florence or the Bentivoglio of Bologna. Maiolica producers, on the other hand, were solely trained in ceramics and their patronage ranged from powerful figures such as popes and ruling families like the d’Este and Gonzaga, to bourgeois households who could afford a basic set of dishes. Most scholarship does not address the similarities between the works produced in the della Robbia workshop and maiolica workshops, but focus on the inherent difference of primary purpose: the wares produced by Luca della Robbia were primarily aesthetic in purpose, while maiolica was primarily functional. My thesis is that there is not a major difference between the objects produced, but the difference lies in the social status of the producer.
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